The Sydney Observatory

Observatory exterior (photo by Greg O’Beirne, 2006)

An unusual free science museum in Sydney, Australia is the Sydney Observatory. This opened in 1858 as a working observatory. The time ball, which dropped each day to mark the exact time, is still operating at 1:00 PM each afternoon. The observatory now operates as a small museum, having been refurbished during 1997–2008. The telescopes can also be used on paid night tours.

The observatory is a stiff climb up Observatory Hill. The exhibits are limited in number, but include some excellent orreries. Unless you have some astronomical expertise, the paid guided tours will be helpful. My brief visit was an enjoyable one.

An orrery at Sydney Observatory (photo by Anthony Dekker)

Looking back: 2000

As the year 2000 opened, I was in Sydney, watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks. After all the hype about the Y2K problem, I was half-expecting the lights to go out. They did not, of course. Later in the year, the 2000 Summer Olympics were held in Sydney, and the city put on another spectacular show for that:

Also in 2000, genome-sequencing of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana (below) was completed, and described in Nature. The genome is available at

The Cassini probe flew past Jupiter at the end of the year (en route to Saturn), and took some spectacular pictures, including this one of Io in front of the planet:

Films of 2000 included Chicken Run, Chocolat, Gladiator, Pitch Black, Proof of Life, The 6th Day, Thirteen Days, X-Men, and the excellent O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

In books, Ross King published a wonderful little book about Brunelleschi, Dan Brown published the wildly inaccurate Angels & Demons, Umberto Eco published Baudolino (in Italian), J.K. Rowling published the 4th Harry Potter book, and Patricia McKillip published the beautifully oneiric The Tower at Stony Wood.

In music, Britney Spears was still wildly popular. In architecture, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow was rebuilt, and the Tate Modern in London opened. The London Millennium Bridge was closed two days after opening because of resonance problems, which required the retrofitting of fluid-viscous and tuned-mass dampers. Software is not the only thing with bugs.

My favourite bookshops

I ♥ science books!

Even in the age of the Internet, there’s nothing like browsing real books. Here are some of my favourite bookshops in Australia for science books. All of them are worth a visit:

Abbey’s Bookshop, Sydney

Abbey’s Bookshop, in Sydney, is an excellent bookshop, with the entire back wall being devoted to science and mathematics.

Books Kinokuniya, Sydney (photo by “Jason7825”)

Books Kinokuniya, just a short distance from Abbey’s (in The Galeries Victoria), also has a good science collection.

Boffins Bookshop, Perth (photo by Boffins Bookshop)

Boffins Bookshop, in Perth, specialises in technical subjects, including science and mathematics.

The Book Grocer’s branch in Albury, New South Wales

The Book Grocer, in multiple Melbourne locations and elsewhere around Australia (including Canberra), is an excellent discount book chain. All books are $10 or less. The Book Grocer usually carries a range of interesting mathematics and science books.

ANU Co-op Bookshop, Canberra (photo by “Nick D”)

In addition to the bookshops listed, bookshops in major universities (such as branches of the Co-op) can be counted on to carry interesting stock in the areas of science and mathematics. Clouston and Hall Academic Remainders, in Canberra (not pictured), offer a range of interesting books at a discount, and a number of other bookshops, such as Readings and Reader’s Feast in Melbourne, also carry a reasonable stock of science and mathematics books.

So why not celebrate National Science Week by reading a book about science?

The Sydney Aquarium

Aquarium exterior (photo by “Ypsilon”)

The Sydney Aquarium is one of Sydney’s more popular tourist attractions, particularly for families with children. A highlight of the aquarium is the large shark tank, through which visitors can walk in a tunnel.

Sharks! (photo by Peta Holmes)

For more information, see the Wikipedia article and the aquarium website. Tripadvisor gives the aquarium 4 stars.

Clownfish and sea anemone (my photo)

The Australian Museum, Sydney

Museum exterior (photo by “J Bar”)

The Australian Museum in central Sydney is Australia’s oldest museum, having been founded in 1827, and opened to the public in 1855. It specialises in natural history and anthropology.

This excellent diorama dates back to 1927 (my photo)

As well as having a collection which dates back (in part) almost two centuries, the museum hosts various special exhibits. At the time of my visit, Tyrannosaurs were wowing the kids. Dinosaur skeletons are also (of course!) part of the permanent collection.

Museum interior: dinosaur skeleton and atrium (my photo)

Having previously mentioned a frog discovery by museum staff, I was happy to see that a small display explained some of the work done by museum staff in discovering new species. There are also some nice displays of animals resident in Australian backyards.

Various displays: stuffed cockatiel from the extensive bird collection, crocoite from the mineral collection, fish skeleton, and echinoderms (my photo)

For more information, see the Wikipedia article, the museum website, and the museum blog. Sadly, the museum is not free, but admission is reasonably priced. Tourists (or residents) in Sydney should certainly consider a visit (Tripadvisor gives the museum 4 stars).

These slit drums from Vanuatu are part of the anthropological collection (my photo)

The Macleay Museum, Sydney

The Macleay Museum (interior)

The Macleay Museum is a small (but free!) museum tucked away in the top floor of the Macleay building at the University of Sydney.

The museum, begun two centuries ago by Alexander Macleay, specialises in animal specimens and old scientific instruments, as well as having an ethnographic collection. However, only a handful of specimens are on display to the casual visitor. Still, like the other University of Sydney museums, the Macleay Museum is well worth a brief visit.

A microscope from the Macleay Museum’s collection

Update: the Macleay Museum will be closed for renovations from 25 November 2016 until 2018.